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Defense was the name of the game as Penn football rode numerous dominating defensive performances to an Ivy League title.

Credit: Priscilla des Gachons

Throughout Penn football’s rich history, it is hard to think of a team that was as outright dominant in Ivy League play as the 2009 squad.

One of nine conference championship seasons under coach Al Bagnoli, this one was one of the most notable with a 7-0 conference record. This conference title would be the first of three titles that the Red and Blue would win over the next four years. 

After a difficult loss to No. 2 Villanova and a defeat at the hands of Lafayette in overtime, the Quakers were determined to turn things around.

Even with notable setbacks, such as losing starting quarterback Keifer Garton to injury for the majority of the season, the Red and Blue were able to rally under their dominant defense, while backup quarterback Kyle Olson passed for 1,319 yards to lead an impressive eight-game winning streak.

This run started off with an impressive conference matchup against Dartmouth, where star running back Lyle Marsh put up a solid 120 yards from scrimmage, contributing to a staggering total of 288 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns.

The Quakers went on to defeat Bucknell 21-3, giving the team some much-needed morale going into a pivotal game against Ivy League rival Columbia, which was having a solid season thus far with a 1-0 conference record.

Credit: Priscilla des Gachons

However, the Lions proved to be no match for the multi-talented Red and Blue, who won by a score of 27-13.

“It was a good win for Penn against a very improved Columbia team that I think will be heard from the rest of the way," Bagnoli said after the game. "It was good to get out of New York and come home to our parents' weekend."

However, the dominance that was Penn's 2009 season was far from over: after wins against Yale and Brown behind two more dominant defensive performances, the team knew that they were on a roll.

The Quakers held Yale to a shutout in a 9-0 win, and only allowed 25 rushing yards with 163 yards from their offense overall. Not only did the insurmountable pressure from this defense cause the Bulldogs to miss three field goals, but the Penn defense even managed to rack up five sacks.

The same dominating performance was seen against Brown with five team-leading tackles from five different players, and the offense contributed massively to a 14-7 win with 313 passing yards from quarterback Kyle Olson.

Not even Princeton could halt the train that was the the Red and Blue, as the Tigers were blown out, 42-7.

“We’ve been waiting for our entire team to play as well as they are capable of playing and we’re headed in the right direction," Bagnoli said.

As the season neared its conclusion, everyone knew that the big game was going to be against Harvard, the projected Ivy League champions at the beginning of the year and only other team with a 5-0 conference record.

But even in a driving rainstorm, the Quakers' strong defense and efficient offense were able to hold off the Crimson 17-7, sealing their share of the Ivy League championship. Penn’s defense held Harvard’s top-rated offense in the conference to just 250 total yards.

After Penn’s blowout 42-7 win against Cornell the next week to seal the Ivy League title and a No. 20 FCS ranking, quarterback Kyle Olson summed it up candidly.

“All I had to do was just put the ball in their hands and my players did the rest. … We were able to do what we were supposed to do.”

The consistent defense and raw versatility of the 2009 Penn Quakers was a sight to behold, and no team stood in their way en route to an Ivy League title.

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